The Village Church

by Nelly Shulman

The girl became convinced of the earth’s roundness during her first school holidays. Barely waiting for the beginning of summer, her grandmother packed a leatherette bag with shabby handles.

They could not scrape enough money for a seaside trip, but granny knew people who still lived in the village, from where her ancestor came to study at the city seminary. First, they dozed for a long time on a slow train. Grandmother’s head bobbed, and the girl, holding on to their bag, thought gloomily about the unknown to her village boys.

From the platform, they took an old bus exuding gasoline fume. A hot wind blew through an open window. The gentle greenery of the hills rolled around them, interspersed with azure stretches of blooming flax and scarlet spots of poppies. The hills rose and fell, carrying the earth away.

The bus stopped at a rusty structure sticking out of the roadside. Granny busied herself with the bags. The girl, forgetting her fears, was first to jump into the soft dust. Her heart pounded, and she rushed to the old willow grove, dotted with bird nests, where the mallow and wild rose enveloped the grey church walls.

Stepping under the echoey roof, the girl wandered around, touching the white plaster of the walls, gawping at the rainbow colors of the stained-glass windows soaring above her disheveled head. She wanted to say something, but any human word seemed out of place here.

Creeping on the creaky floorboards, she timidly touched the dark wood of the empty pews, the yellow wax stains on the patinated copper of the ancient candlesticks. In the city, the girl would have been afraid of staying alone, but here, the familiar gnawing feeling in her gut disappeared as a whiff of bluish candle smoke.

The pew invitingly opened to her its end. The girl sat, at first, hesitantly, trying to feel with her buttocks and spine whether this surface was any different from the trusted wood of the school desk. Finding some ink stains nearby, the girl rejoiced in their existence within this strange abode. In the back of the pew, she had found some hinges. The cover opened, and the girl stealthily rummaged inside.

The book turned out to be smallish as if printed and bound exclusively for the palm of her hand, Grandma was calling to her from the stone font at the entrance, but the girl just rustled the pages, breathing in the sweet smell of silence.

Many years later, when journalists asked the Bishop where she first stepped into a sacred space, she always thought of a meek village church bathing in the lush growth of summer flowers as if carried away on the milky cloud.

Nelly Shulman is a writer currently based in Berlin. Her work has appeared on, in the Vine Leaves Press Anthology of the Best 2021 Flash Fiction and in the various literary magazines. She is a winner of two writing awards. In her short story The Village Church Nelly Shulman reflects on the beginning of an individual’s spiritual journey.

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